Went to Highgate Cemetary today! It was raining but it was a beautiful experience; I wasn’t so sure what to expect because back in Malaysia the graveyard I visit is on a very large, very wild hill. Before we started, Fengchun actually told me about how today would be considered a good day to visit graves in China as the rain meant the Gods are crying. I thought that was interesting because I feel like graveyards are often a melancholy place, yet when I reached there I was struck by the amount of beauty and peace in it.
I noticed the epitaphs first, mostly because I’ve been reading Fernández’s article Euphemistic conceptual metaphors in epitaphs from Highgate Cemetery, but then I started to pay a lot of attention to the architecture of the tombstones and the arrangement of the flowers and ornaments placed with them. In a way, tombstones are erected for the people left behind more than the person passing away, it’s like a physical incarnation of what the person meant to those that loved them in a way.
I wondered if there is a more concrete way to leave memories behind, a gravestone can only say so much about a person and it’s a bit sad when graves are slowly left unattended. When we were talking afterwards, someone brought up a very interesting point about how they wondered what happened in the lives of many of the people behind the epitaphs. It is true that there were so many people that were incredibly important, I’ve found poets and human right activists that I haven’t heard a lot about or weren’t mentioned on the map as iconic figures which was a shame! Not only that, each individual buried and mourned are people that have had a positive impact on the lives of a few more.
I wonder if there’s a way for cemeteries to use technology to help immortalise and provide more information about the people within them, or have pages where people can contribute information. There is already a process to find the graves but how do we get people to learn about them. However, how much do people want to share about their loved ones? What do they want to share? What do people want to be known as after they’re gone and by who?
All in all, I think the visit to the graveyard is not only a way for me to appreciate death but a thought-provoking journey about the preservation of memories and identities, for both the individual who has passed and more importantly for the people that they left behind.